25 Years Ago: Li Peng Meets Student Representatives

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the nationwide, student-led democracy movement in China, and the subsequent June 4th military crackdown in Beijing. To commemorate the student movement, CDT is posting a series of original news articles from 1989, beginning with the death of Hu Yaobang on April 15 and continuing through the tumultuous spring. The full series can be read here.

From a May 18, 1989 Beijing Television Service broadcast, via The Gate of Heavenly Peace:

[Li Peng:] Delighted to meet you. This meeting came a little late. I apologize for this. Some of your fellow students are now waiting for you at the east side of the Great Hall, making me feel as if under siege [laughing]. I hope that we will have a frank conversation instead of [indistinct]. I would like to discuss only one topic today and shelve other topics until some time in the future. The topic I would like to discuss is how to relieve the fasting comrades of their predicament as soon as possible. The party and the government are very much concerned about the students. Therefore, I would like to exchange views with you mainly on this question, and on how a solution can be found so that we can discuss other questions. It is not that we do not want to [indistinct], but that we are mainly [indistinct]. Frankly, I guess that the oldest of you is about 22 or 23. My youngest child is even older than you. None of my three children is engaged in official profiteering. None. They are all older than you. We look at you as if you were our own children, our own flesh and blood.

[Wu'er Kaixi:] The time is pressing. We can sit down and have a drink here, but the students are sitting on the cold ground and starving on the square. I’m sorry I had to butt in. We hope we can enter into a substantial dialogue as soon as possible. Sorry I have to interrupt. Yes, you are like our elders to us.

[Li Peng:] It does not matter [if you wished to be the elder?] …

[Wu'er Kaixi:] It certainly does matter. You have just said that this meeting is a little late. The fact is that we asked for a meeting with you as early as April 22 at Tiananmen Square. Therefore, this meeting is not only a little late, but too late. However, it doesn’t matter because you have already met us [indistinct]. You said we are going to discuss only one question. In fact, it is not that you asked us to come here for discussion, but that the great number of people at the square asked you to come out for a talk. The topics of discussion should be decided by us. Fortunately, we share an identical view that there is only one, just one question that needs to be discussed. Therefore, let us discuss just this question.

Many students have already fainted. But this is not my point. What is impor-tant is to solve the problem. How can the problem be solved? I think that it is good that you have finally come out and shown your sincerity to resolve the problem. We read and listened to Comrade Zhao Ziyang’s written statement yesterday and the day before. Why didn’t the students leave? Why did we stay? You should know the reason, I believe. We regard the written statement as insufficient. It is not enough to meet our demands. Moreover, I believe you are aware of the prevailing atmosphere at the square. If such an atmosphere contin-ues, then it is likely that there will be no room for discussion here. Premier Li, it may sound like I am exaggerating a bit. Please think about this: Should the slightest error occur at the square, or should a student . . . I do not want to elaborate further. [Wu'er Kaixi motions to Wang Dan, seated next to Wu'er, to speak.]

This can also be read in Chinese, here.

Also, from the same day’s New York Times:

Sirens wailed as ambulances whizzed by, carrying hunger strikers who have fainted after five days without eating, when the gray-haired school teacher suddenly pulled out her handkerchief and cried.

”Our hearts bleed when we hear the sound of ambulances,” she said, her voice breaking. ”They are no longer children. They are the hope of China.”

The teacher, like more than a million other people in the capital, had taken to the streets to support the hunger-striking students and express her demands for democracy. When a group of students approached, passing around a cardboard box to collect money for their cause, she reached into her faded purse and pulled out the equivalent of $5 – a week’s wages for her – and put it into the box.


[This series was originally posted by CDT in 2009 to mark the 20th anniversary of the protests. If you have access to additional sources of original reporting, video, accounts or photos from the spring of 1989, please send them to us at cdt@chinadigitaltimes.net and we’ll consider including them in this series. Many thanks.]